By COLTER NUANEZ
Xavier Blount’s career wasn’t supposed to end like this.
The Montana State starting guard spent his senior season as a chameleon, a jack-of-all-trades who’s worn many hats for the Bobcats this winter. He’s played three different positions, even being force to be a primary post defender during a short-handed weekend.
The hat the senior has worn most has been the hat of the leader of the pack. It seemed a year after a nightmare night nearly derailed his career, it seemed things had come full circle for Blount.
The exuberant senior lights up the room whenever he attends MSU’s weekly press conferences. But away from the court or the camera, the 6-foot-4 native of Virginia Beach, Virginia is humble and reserved. The role of leader on a team that welcomed half a dozen newcomers to the fold at the beginning of the season was a reluctant transition for Blount.
“He’s taken the reigns, certainly and it’s not an easy role to have,” MSU seventh-year head coach Brad Huse said in January. “I wouldn’t say it’s something he is comfortable with or not comfortable with. He’s seen the need for it. I give him a lot of credit for stepping up and embracing that. He’s played well, but he’s also been our emotional leader.
“We all appreciate his passion. He’s a fun guy to talk with. We’ve needed him to be a central voice for our team, a leader on the floor and off the floor. When it’s all said and done and he’s away from here, I’m hopeful that’s what he will look back on.”
Now the Bobcats will tackle the most difficult and most important stretch of their season without Blount. The senior suffered a stress fracture in his right foot last week, costing him his final two home games and likely sidelining him for the duration of this week’s Big Sky Conference Tournament in Missoula.
The Bobcats (13-16) earned the tournament’s No. 4 seed by posting a 10-10 league record. MSU will take on No. 5 Northern Colorado at 8 p.m. on Thursday night.
“It’s been our deal all year,” Huse said. “You look across the board, we only had three guys who played in every league game. We are playing a team on Thursday that had the same five starters for all 20 league games. We’ve shown a lot of resilience dealing with adversity and change. It’s become a strength of ours in a sense. We are prepared unfortunately to have to go on without Xavier. It’s a difficult situation for him and for us.
“We certainly wish we had him, but we don’t.”
Montana State proved last week success is possible even without one of its leader. With Blount sitting in the second row of the Brick Breeden Fieldhouse bleachers in street clothes, Montana State defeated Northern Arizona 83-79 in overtime. The Bobcats then defeated Sacramento State 71-55.
“A lot of guys decided, when we knew he was going to be out, it was a big blow so guys had to step up,” Montana State senior Christian Moon said. “He’s such a leader with his passion and his voice and so on. He’s been a big part of my two years here, so winning (the tournament) for him, showing him something to go out with would be great.”
The recent spat of adversity is one of the speed bump during Blount’s Bozeman journey. A year ago at this time, Blount was out of the lineup because of injury, but none of the pain was a product of the wear and tear of the hardwood.
Last February, a night in downtown Bozeman went awry. Blount was found behind the Bar IX, battered severely. His shoulder was dislocated. His face was lacerated. His nose was broken. His season was over.
Speculation swirled as to why an altercation involving former Montana State linebacker Roger Trammell, MSU track star Chris Wilson and Blount occurred. What’s known is Blount was charged with disorderly conduct and minor in possession of alcohol. Trammell was cited with misdemeanor assault. Wilson, a sprinter from Great Falls, was cited with disorderly conduct and unlawful use of a driver's license.
Former MSU defensive lineman Zach Minter was also charged with unlawful use of a driver’s license when Wilson was found with his ID.
Blount’s junior season, a campaign that saw him lead the Bobcats in scoring at 11.7 points per game, was finished, but Blount never considered leaving Bozeman.
“That never crossed my mind one time,” Blount said. “My life lead me in this direction. There was something that happened here that was a learning experience here in Montana. I never thought I was going to leave, never wanted to leave. It left me stronger really.
“It’s growing up man, it’s growing up. That’s what life is about, man. It’s about growing, being responsible and being a man, owning up to your actions and learning from them.”
The developments last season were disturbing, Huse said, but Blount never wavered in his commitment to the program.
“I don’t recall ever having to convince him to (stay),” Huse said. “There may have been a low moment, but it was more an issue of his recovery and making sure he could respond to all the adversity involved with the situation, but he made that decision to get back to full health.”
Blount — who played a season of high school hoops in Albuquerque, New Mexico before finishing his prep career in Virginia — came to MSU from Cochise College. His second season at the Douglas, Ariz., school produced NJCAA All-America recognition.
Earning a Division I scholarship was a dream come true. Earning a starting spot right when he said campus was icing on the cake for Blount. Adjusting to life in the Treasure State was a new challenge.
“It’s different out here,” Blount said with a smirk. “I don’t like the weather at all, but it’s a great place to come and see, a place I’d never seen before. It’s definitely different than the places I’ve been around the country, especially where I’m from.”
Virginia Beach, the largest metropolitan area in Virginia, is home to the world’s largest pleasure beach. The Virginia Beach-Norfolk-Newport News area, known as "America's First Region", counts former NBA superstar Allen Iverson, NFL stars Michael Vick, Percy Harvin and Plaxico Burress, professional baseball players Scott Sizemore and Ryan Zimmerman and Olympic gold medal-winning gymnast Gabby Douglas as homegrown prodcuts.
What’s the most striking difference in Blount’s transition to Montana living?
“Probably the snow,” Blount said with a laugh. “We’ve got real snow. This is like the snow you see on movies and stuff. This isn’t messing around up here.”
Blount is closing in on a degree in liberal studies. He’s on track to graduate following the fall semester. He’s unsure of what his future might hold, but his immediate goal for his squad remains the same.
“It’s nothing more, nothing less than a championship,” Blount said of his tournament goals last week, two days before being shut down for the season. “I know me, personally, I’m not going to be satisfied with semifinals or losing in the championship game. Next Sunday, we need to be watching ESPN, learning who we play in the first round.”
Colter Nuanez can be reached at BobcatBeat56@gmail.com and followed on Twitter @Bobcat_Beat. Photo courtesy of Jeff Krogstad, Krogstad Photography.